France to Sell Egypt Two Warships Originally Built for Russia

Two French-built Mistral-class helicopter carriers, the Sevastopol, right, and the Vladivostok, at a shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, on France's Atlantic coast. (PHOTO CREDIT: Stephane Mahe/Reuters)
Two French-built Mistral-class helicopter carriers, the Sevastopol, right, and the Vladivostok, at a shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, on France’s Atlantic coast. (PHOTO CREDIT: Stephane Mahe/Reuters)

Two French warships originally built for Russia, but not delivered because of the crisis in Ukraine, will be sold to Egypt instead, the French government announced Wednesday.

President François Hollande told reporters in Brussels, where he was attending a European Union summit meeting, that French negotiators had “unwound the contract we had with Russia on good terms, respectful of Russia and not suffering any penalty for France,” and that he and his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, had “agreed on the price and conditions” of a sale to Egypt on Tuesday. He did not give details.

The two warships — Mistral-class amphibious assault ships that can carry troops and helicopters — were completed late last year and are docked at St.-Nazaire on France’s Atlantic coast. Russia ordered them in 2011 for about $1.3 billion, and had already paid about $1 billion of that by November 2014, when the French government halted the sale indefinitely. That money has been refunded.

A spokesman for the French government, Stéphane Le Foll, refused to elaborate on the price Egypt had agreed to pay. Mr. Hollande said only that France would “ensure the delivery of these ships without losing anything, while helping protect Egypt.”

There was no immediate comment from the Egyptian government. Government offices in Cairo were closed Wednesday as part of Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday.

Egypt had been rumored for months to be interested in buying the ships, as part of its effort to assist Saudi Arabia in a coalition fighting the Houthi rebels in Yemen who have taken control of much of the country. France has had close ties with the Sunni Arab states for years, and has sought to capitalize on the perceived cooling among the United States and the Persian Gulf nations over the nuclear deal with Iran.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Alissa J. Rubin

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